outside the square
1 unfamiliar perspectives, altered realities
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The riskiness of art, the reason why it affects us,
is not the riskiness of its subject matter,
it is the risk of creating a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking.
– Jeanette Winterson
Excerpt from unfamiliar perspectives and altered realities
It is widely accepted that the course of Western art was turned on its head (sometimes literally) by Pablo Picasso. “Observation is the most vital part of my life, but not any sort of observation,” he claimed. Yet few armchair art-lovers seem to fully understand what “sort of observation” Picasso was able to employ, and why. It is clear that he had achieved mastery in the traditional modes of observation – his drawings of tiny sparrows done before he was six years old are evidence of his ability to see the what-is of a natural subject. But he was a curiosity-driven human, and for him that what-is was merely “what appears to be if I look in this way.” The energy of his wondering mind was immense, and this is the kind of energy needed for vital seeing.
Vital is a word that implies life-sustenance. And perhaps we could go so far as to say that the kind of seeing we are exploring in this book involves perceiving the actuality of the life-essence of our subject, of our vision, and of the work unfolding beneath our hands. For Picasso, vital seeing meant being able to observe “the utterly familiar from a new vantage point.” And his vantage points were unlimited. They dispensed with conventional notions of perspective – thereby reinforcing the freedom of the artist to consider the surface of the work as an entity-in-itself, rather than the illusion of a recognizable scene of any kind. They freed him to create an entirely new galaxy in the universe of art.
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, perspective refers to the Art of delineating solid objects on a plane surface so as to give [the] same impression of relative positions, magnitudes, etc., as the actual objects do when viewed from [a] particular point. But what if the maker is unconcerned about reproducing the “same impression”? And even more interestingly, what if the artist does not see the scene in the conventional way: what if his or her experience of the view is experienced inwardly in a way that defies the use of conventions altogether? In believing is seeing we saw how people from different cultures and contexts see in vastly different ways. […]
For most people, Renaissance perspective is the only way of viewing the world, the only possible way to see ‘reality’ as it ‘really’ is, but we have already discovered the fallacy of that view. The question that pops up at this point in wondering mind is this: Does reality create our perspective, or does our perspective create our reality? […]
– miriam louisa simons
Gaining a wider perspective is like opening a window into a stuffy room –
the whole atmosphere changes and the fresh breeze carries
alternatives to our habitual ways of reacting.
– Tarthang Tulku
e-books – empty canvas : wondering mind